Lewis Hine as Social Critic, by Kate Sampsell-Willmann, uses a selection of the social documentary photographer Lewis Hine's (1874-1940) work as "texts" to reintroduce him as a pivotal figure in American culture. Hine was not only the father of documentary photography, but also a Progressive activist, a disciple of the philosopher John Dewey, a supporter of the rights of children and workers, and a follower of the tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement. Sampsell-Willmann adds a new twist to the scholarship that venerates Hine, by focusing more on him than on his photographs.
This publication is not the place to find lush reproductions, nor is it a photographic history book; rather, it is a useful overview of how Hine was affected by and contributed to cultural, economic, intellectual, and political shifts between 1904 and 1940 through his work for the National Child Labor Committee, the Pittsburgh Survey, and the American Red Cross, among other organizations. Some photographers and art historians, however, might hope for more attention to individual photographs. Though we find comparisons to Walker Evans, Jacob Riis and Alfred Stieglitz, and information on Hine's attempts to maintain the copyright of his works, we only see a few reproductions of his photographs. When they do appear, they are illustrations of Hine's social and intellectual beliefs.
As Sampsell-Willmann notes, Hine's archive "does not answer." However, Lewis Hine as Social Critic does have some information for those interested in Hine's role in U.S. history in the first four decades of the twentieth century. But most of all, we come away with an urge to take a deeper look at a broader selection of Hine's thousands of photographs and explore what the objects themselves can tell us about their making and contexts.
—Leslie J. Ureña
Leslie J. Ureña recently filed her dissertation, “Lewis Hine at Ellis Island: The Photography of Immigration and Race, 1904-1926.” Since September 2008 she has been working as a curatorial assistant in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.